NEW ORLEANS — The most bizarre minute of football you're likely to witness erased a half of domination and sent them to the locker room trailing by four points.
An early, third-quarter turnover and touchdown deepened the hole to 11 points.
The head coach's brain cramp created a last-minute fire drill.
How would Virginia Tech's Hokies respond?
Did Tech deserve to be in this Sugar Bowl against Michigan? Or was a team that played a weak non-conference schedule and lost the ACC title game by four touchdowns going to be exposed on the big stage again?
Worse yet, would the Hokies fold in the second half as they did in last year's Orange Bowl loss to Stanford?
The answers would define their season.
To its credit, Tech didn't blink. The defense remained stout, and the offense forged two fourth-quarter ties to send the game to overtime.
There the Wolverines prevailed 23-20.
Frank Beamer's worst coaching decision in memory, a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from the Hokies' 48, set up a 39-yard field goal that gave the Wolverines a 20-17 lead.
Hey, if you're going to go on fourth down, line up and rely on Logan Thomas or David Wilson. Don't get cute, especially after a timeout.
It was completely out of character for Beamer and cost his team.
But Thomas was unfazed, marching Tech 83 yards to Justin Myer's tying, 25-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.
Myer's performance, in relief of suspended Cody Journell and Tyler Weiss, can't be overstated. The senior had never made a college field goal.
Tuesday he made his first four, including a 43-yarder that was the Hokies' longest this season. He missed from 37 in OT, just before Michigan converted its kick, but the young man was stellar regardless.
The naysayers will have a field day now. But this wasn't anything like Stanford or the ACC title game. This was a nasty defensive struggle with odd bounces.
Tech had dominated Michigan for much of the evening and was poised to take a two-score lead. But the Wolverines stuffed Thomas on a fourth-and-1 from the 4.
No problem with the decision to go or the play call. Both had served the Hokies well this season.
After Tech forced a punt, James Hopper roughed Will Hagerup to gift-wrap a first down for Michigan. Then came 60 whirlwind seconds that staggered the Hokies.
First safety Eddie Whitley just missed a mid-air pass break-up, allowing Junior Hemingway to catch the heave and stroll 20 yards into the end zone with 49 seconds remaining in the first half.
Tony Gregory fumbled the subsequent kickoff, and the Wolverines recovered at the 26. With 19 seconds left, Michigan lined up for a 36-yard field goal, only to have holder Drew Dileo rise up and loft a pass (charitable description there).
Kyle Fuller and Alonzo Tweedy collided in their haste to intercept, and the subsequent deflection went to long snapper Jareth Glanda for a first down. Michigan managed only a field goal for a 10-6 intermission lead, but Tech had to be deflated.
Even more so when the Wolverines converted Frank Clark's interception into a touchdown and 17-6 lead.
But Myer's third field goal, the Hokies' first touchdown in six quarters and a two-point conversion knotted the score.
Tuesday marked Tech's eighth BCS-level bowl in the last 17 years. But this one was dramatically different.
The first seven were earned with conference championships, three in the Big East and four in the ACC. The eighth was an at-large invitation that came less than 24 hours after the Hokies lost the ACC title contest to Clemson by 28 points.
So instantly the stakes were clear. A program that was 1-4 in BCS games and a conference that was 2-11 needed to prove their chops.
In an essay for ESPN.com, Colin Carroll, the Hokies' fifth-year senior long snapper, said the program's reputation, as well as the ACC's, hinged on defeating Michigan.
"We need to represent the ACC," he wrote. "We need to justify the Sugar Bowl committee's decision to offer us a BCS at-large bid -- the first such invitation extended to an ACC school. We need to resurrect our program from the shellacking Clemson gave us in the ACC title game. We need to validate Virginia Tech as a national power."
The Hokies fell short of that lofty aim.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun